The first approved coronavirus vaccine was shot into the arms of given to frontline healthcare workers across the country this month, pushing the pandemic into a welcomed, hopefully final, stage.
But how long that stage lasts remains to be seen.
As more vaccines receive the federal stamp of emergency approval and more people are slowly granted access to them, health experts have warned that guidelines issued to curtail the spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease will still be required for many months to come.
Palm Beach County influencers, too, worry that the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine will encourage many to shirk mask-wearing and physical distancing, giving them a false sense of comfort that the pandemic’s end is nearer than it is in reality.
“I think many people are justifiably suffering from pandemic fatigue, and the announcement that a vaccine has been developed, tested and deemed safe, many people are going to relax in their following of best practices,” said Wellington Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone, one of 325 local leaders polled.
More COVID vaccine info: Palm Beach County COVID vaccinations lower than smaller counties
“We have to keep up the same level of diligence that everyone should have been following since March. If you let your guard down or begin to behave like ‘it’s over,’ we will see the current spike continue to climb, both in the number of cases and deaths,” Napoleone continued.
Three in four of the 102 influencers who responded to The Palm Beach Post’s December Power Poll agreed with Napoleone.
“While we can at least see a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, we are months, if not a year, out from the general public receiving vaccinations,” Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said.
Palm Beach Gardens City Councilwoman Chelsea Reed said she and her “very strong, very fit Ironman” competitor husband had the coronavirus in early March. She watched as he would “struggle for breath, stay in bed over a week and then struggle for months to recover.”
“It has been 9 months since we had it. While we still have antibodies, we still wear masks and live as if we never had it for the safety of those around us and our loved ones,” Reed said. “P.S. We still don’t feel as healthy as we did before we had COVID.”
Reed said she receives emails every day from residents who say they won’t get the vaccine and refuse to wear masks. But she will continue to follow science-based guidance.
“Masks can not and will not be going away, and herd immunity, sadly, looks far away, based on the information our residents are sharing with me,” she said.
Many won't attend COVID-safe events
Reed was among 32% of influencers polled who also said she would likely attend events planned in 2021 that had COVID-19 safety protocols, such as reduced capacity and health checks.
While a scaled-back South Florida Fair is scheduled to return in January, SunFest as of last week has yet to get official approval.
McKinlay, who is an honorary member of the fair’s board of directors, said she would attend “at least once.”
“The fair will not look like past fairs,” she said. “Several traditional events will not occur, capacity limits will be in place and added security measures instituted to ensure safety.”
Jack Furnari, co-founder of BizPac Review who describes himself as a “radical conservative,” said he had never been to either and “never liked attending crowded events.” He claimed that “fear-mongering” would keep people away from events “for a long time.”
“The fear of COVID-19 has become so ingrained in some people, I doubt they'll even come out when it is safe, vaccine or no vaccine,” he said.
A year to reflect or forget?
As the year winds down, more than half of those polled said they didn’t have a New Year’s resolution.
Well, there’s always next year.
For those who did, their resolutions centered around lessons learned during the pandemic.
“My New Year’s resolution is to remember how lucky my family was to have had our health and a roof over our heads and food on our tables this year while so many struggled,” said Palm Beach Gardens Vice Mayor Rachelle Litt.
Sally Chester, a registered nurse, said her resolution is “to stay alive and keep as many others alive, too.”
Having survived running her first presidential election in the middle of a pandemic, Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link had much to reflect on. She hoped in 2021 she could “look for ways to build bridges in our county” after a heavily divided election.
“We need to learn to live together and work on what unites us more than what divides us,” she said.
Her resolution also was to reconnect with family and close friends after a busy year that also saw her test positive for COVID-19.
“I need to make up for lost time, and I will be intentional about it,” Link said. “We never know what tomorrow brings.”